Q & A with Heikki Kovalainen

McLaren have had a low-key week of testing at Jerez so far - not featuring at the top of the times, and not completing as many laps as their rivals

Q & A with Heikki Kovalainen

But when Heikki Kovalainen talked to the press, including autosport.com, at the end of yesterday's dry session, he remained confident that everything was on schedule and that McLaren will be amongst the main contenders in Melbourne.

Q. You didn't seem to do as much running as the others today, what went wrong or right?

Heikki Kovalainen: Nothing went particularly wrong, there were no failures and we were just going through the test programme. We just did everything according to our plan and we still managed to do a reasonable amount of laps. No big drama.

Q. You were running a 2008 wing again, why was that?

HK: We just wanted to check back to back with the 2009 wing. It's the first time we are running the 2009 front and rear wing in the dry, so it was just to see what kind of numbers we were getting, and comparing if they're accurate and they are what we think they are, that kind of work. That was the reason why we tried that.

Q. How did the 2009 car feel in the wet on Monday?

HK: I think it's a bigger reduction in grip level than in the dry. Obviously the same tyres provide the same grip as last year, but there's less downforce, so it's more difficult. The car is sliding more, it's not possible to drive at the same speed around the lap and around the corners. But it's still interesting, it's still quite good fun, and Monday was really proper wet conditions.

Q. The conditions were consistently wet...

HK: Yeah, it was stable. There was some standing water and it was always very easy to aquaplane and lose the car. We actually got some work done on the engine driveability, especially in those kind of conditions, so there were things we could do.

Q. How well prepared do you feel at the moment?

HK: Ideally I'd like to drive more. I think everybody would like to prepare better. Thinking about the circumstances, I think we're doing a pretty good job. We are ticking the boxes of what we want to know before the first race. I think it's very difficult to say where everybody is at the moment, but if we just keep the focus now on the test and then go to Melbourne and we'll find out there in qualifying and the race where we are.

Q. Is is still too early to say where you stand relative to the competition?

HK: I think so. If you look today, again it is very close in lap times. Everybody is doing their test programmes, so all we can say is that it's going to be close so we need to find every single tenth that it's possible to find to be near the front. But I have every confidence in the team that we're on the right track and we have quite a lot of updates still coming for the car.

We are just really focusing on other things at the moment other than the field's performance - things like KERS, for example, we tried to run that and it's running pretty well, we can run at the maximum performance. Today we didn't have any reliability issues. I think until everybody has the latest techniques it's very difficult to say where we're going to be.

Q. But you expect it to be closer this year? Do you think other teams have caught McLaren and Ferrari?

HK: It's possible, but I think even at the end of last year it was pretty close if you look at especially the qualifying at the end of the year. I think in Brazil in Q2 from first to 10th was only about two tenths, so it's very close, and then obviously in the races the gaps obviously get bigger. Sometimes you got behind a slower car or sometimes some accidents happen, whatever. But I think it's still going to perhaps be closer than it was last year. and that's good for the sport. It's not so good for the drivers who need to try to find a little bit more, but I think it will be better.

Q. Will you be using KERS from the first race?

HK: I'm 99 percent confident. I think we are now hitting a stage where we can run it all day, reliably, without any problems, at the maximum power. So unless somethings goes dramatically wrong, I don't see a reason why we shouldn't run it.

Q. How was the KERS in the wet?

HK: It was fine. Obviously you have to wait a little bit longer before you can get the boost, because you are grip-limited more than you are power-limited. So you just have to back off a little bit more, but apart from that it's fine. It seemed to be working fine, and we had a proper shower on Monday but it seemed to be bulletproof so fingers crossed.

Q. Is there more pressure on the drivers this year with the rule changes and the testing ban?

HK: No, I don't. I just feel that I have slightly changed the way that I work with the team.

Q. In what way?

HK: I spend more time working, basically. I sit in the office more and drive less. I sit in the simulator more, go through things with my engineers, my mechanics and the whole team back in Woking. Also last week I paid a visit to Brixworth and Mercedes headquarters, turned up there without anyone knowing, just checking out how things are going. Obviously I'd prefer to drive but I think now we need to work on the other areas and trying to maximise the data that we have, and trying to maximise the potential that we have there. So that's a slight change from last year.

Q. If McLaren are the only team to use KERS in Australia, that could give you a huge advantage.

HK: Yeah, potentially. But obviously I don't know where other people are. Perhaps I'll have to call Norbert (Haug) and ask how confident he is. But what I see now, my feeling is from how well we're operating it at the track. That's why I think it's 99 percent sure we should be using it, because we're not experiencing any problems with it now.

Hopefully it should be an advantage for us. Certainly it's going to be an advantage at the start, it potentially gives a big benefit from the start to the first corner. And then obviously in the race if you're fighting and you need to overtake people. Hopefully other people don't get it and we get it, but there are other good teams around and I wouldn't underestimate anyone, so I wouldn't be surprised if many of the other teams had it as well.

Q. What's your programme between now and Melbourne?

HK: I think I'll do two more days in Barcelona and two more days here. The plan is that I'll do the final two days here before Melbourne, so hopefully with the latest package that we have. I've spent the last two weeks in the UK with the team and I'll spend this week there as well. It's flat-out now really. Every week there's quite a lot of things to do, some stuff in the simulator, with the engineers, and also driving.

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